When Everyone Lies
With so many conflicting messages and so much fake news around us, it’s easy to feel pessimistic about ever knowing the truth. This Psalm shares that pessimism in a sense, but it also holds out great hope to us: God saves us from this generation.
Psalms 1-72 (Kidner Classic Commentaries), Derek Kidner
The Treasury of David, Charles Spurgeon
One of the lamentable features of life in America today is the amount of misinformation and “fake news” around us, and perhaps the most frustrating part is the difficulty of assessing when what we’re hearing is fake news, statistical manipulation, or some other form of deception. It seems like everyone has their spin, but who has the time to sift through it all and figure everything out for themselves? It’s enough to make one feel pretty pessimistic. Who can we really trust? The Psalm on which we’re focusing today shares that pessimism in a sense. Verse 2 says: “Everyone utters lies to his neighbor.” That’s David’s description of his generation, and ours is not much different. But this Psalm also shows us that God saves us from this generation, because its words are fake, but His are pure.
Its words are fake
This Psalm, like many Psalms, is a prayer, and it begins with a simple request: “Save, O LORD.” The reason for the request is then given: the godly one is gone; the faithful have vanished from among the children of man. David looks around and can’t find a single righteous person. You think, “Well that seems a bit exaggerated,” but then he presents his evidence in verse 2: Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak. He’s not saying that the only thing people do is utter lies to their neighbor; he’s saying everyone does it when it helps them. They speak with a “double heart.” The heart in the Bible is the seat of our motives, so to say that someone speaks with a double heart is to say they have multiple motives in their speech: An apparent, visible motive, and a hidden agenda.
Now when our generation thinks of sins of speech, we typically think of verbally abusive speech: Belittling someone, racial slurs, verbal intimidation, etc. Scripture certainly condemns such speech, but it’s not the focus of this Psalm. Instead, verse 2 speaks of the lies coming with “flattering lips.” It’s nice speech. Of course, saying nice things to people isn’t necessarily flattery; most of us could probably stand to do that more often. And why don’t we? Because we’re usually too busy thinking of ourselves, or we see another’s praiseworthy qualities and instead of pointing them out and affirming them, we resent them. We don’t want to add to their glory by saying nice things about them because we’re afraid it would detract from our glory. But the flatterer has learned another way. The flatterer has learned that people like hearing nice things about themselves, and if people get used to hearing those things from him, they won’t compete with him or take his glory…They’ll follow him and add to it. Like a slave master who learns that the best way to get production of out his slaves is to be nice to them, the flatterer has learned that the best way to manipulate people is to affirm them. Flattery, then, is saying nice things to people with the hidden motive to manipulate the person, and a willingness to bend the truth if it serves that end.
And isn’t this typical of our generation? I mentioned the news media already, who tends to present the news in such a way as to make their base feel like the good guys. Or think of commercials: They don’t typically tell you you suck; they tell you you’re great, and do you know what great people do? They buy this product. Conservatives tell their base that America is great, and the liberals want to take it from you. Liberals tell their base that conservatives are oppressive, and you are great for fighting their oppression. Churches often shade the truth of the Bible to flatter people into coming. And who knows what their neighbor actually thinks of them? We’re all “nice” to one another, but do we know one another? And who knows if that online dating profile accurately reflects the person? Who knows if they really like you or are just flattering you to get something from you? In response to a culture of deception, you can say, “Well I’m just going to trust no one and think for myself,” but you can’t help but live in a society. The voices of others will influence you, whether you like it or not. How do you know which ones are flattering you, and which ones, on the other hand, are safe to follow?
Save, O LORD, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man. Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak. Can you feel the desire of verse 3? Lord, just cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts, those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?” Don’t want you want to live in a world where all those kinds of people are cut off? A world where you never have to worry about someone’s ulterior motive, and can instead just take their words at face value?
In a truly secular way of looking at the world, such a world is a pipe dream, because in a truly secular way of looking at the world, speaking with a selfish motive isn’t a flaw in humans; it’s just part of being human. So the best we can do is engineer society in such a way that each person’s selfish interests are checked by others’; don’t let anyone have too much power. And there’s wisdom in that in a fallen world, but in our generation, we’ve basically just accepted the inevitability of lying. I remember buying my dad’s car and at the title transfer the title guy repeatedly asking me if it was a gift, because if it was a gift, I wouldn’t have to pay sales tax. And repeatedly I said no, because it wasn’t, and you could tell the assumption was, “Of course you’re going to lie about this; it’ll save you a few hundred dollars.” On a slightly lighter note, think of how multiple restaurants can claim to have the world’s best pizza. We all look at that and say, “yeah but we all know they don’t really mean that,” because it’s normal for us to assume that people often don’t mean what they say. And again, we Christians are not immune. I’m amazed at how often I meet Christians who are part of churches where I’ll tell them, “You know the official teaching of your church is _____,” and they’ll say, “Yeah but I don’t actually believe that.” But wait, you said you did when you joined that church. “Sure, but everyone kinda gets that’s just a hoop you jump through.”
And what this culture of cheapening words does, ironically, is it cheapens genuine affirmation. We’re used to people saying things they don’t mean, so when people do actually affirm you, it’s easy to receive it as, “Yeah but you’re just saying that.” Flattery kills genuine encouragement. Lying isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. This Psalm laments how normal it is, but it also holds out to us a hope of something better. It says salvation is possible, because God saves. It doesn’t have to be this way. It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when people said what they meant and meant what they said, but a liar intruded, Satan, the father of lies, and lied to the first humans. And how did he do it? Did he tell them how awful they were? No; he told them how awful God was, and how great they are, and how the real reason God forbade them to eat from a certain tree was because God was afraid of their greatness. He flattered them. And now everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
But just as it wasn’t always that way, it doesn’t have to stay that way. Save, O LORD! And look at God’s response in verse 5. “Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the LORD. “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.” Bad news for flattering lips. They say our lips are with us, who is master over us, but there is a master over them over whom flattery has no power, and so He hears not their smooth talk, but the groanings of the needy. And He says, “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.” Now there’s another word. Can we trust it? Or is it merely flattery too? We can trust it, because it’s God’s Word, and His words are pure.
His words are pure
So look at verse 6: The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. Silver at that time was typically refined in a furnace on the ground, a furnace in which there was a fire, heated to a high temperature, and in which a piece of silver was then placed. That fire would then burn off anything that wasn’t silver, or what’s commonly called “dross.” The result would be a specimen of pure silver. Here we’re told that God’s word has a purity like that, only this is the purity of silver that has been purified seven times. The number seven in the Bible indicates completeness, so the idea here is that God’s word is absolutely free from any impurity. Unlike the words of our generation, His words are pure words.
Now interestingly, David doesn’t take any time to argue for this. Then again, how could he? What’s he going to do, take the words of those with flattering lips and the words of God, examine them side by side, and prove that God’s words are the pure ones? The problem with that is first, that it’s very hard to observe whether someone has a pure motive; the nature of motives is that they’re internal. But more importantly, you can only assess the truth of some statement by comparing it to a standard of truth that is more certain than it. So if I have someone’s birth certificate, then ask them their birth date, I can assess the truth of their answer based on their birth certificate. But that only works if the birth certificate is more certain than this person’s answer.
The problem, then, with assessing the truth of God’s words, is we’d have to have some other more certain standard by which to assess them, and what would that be? Our own ideas? But aren’t we fallible? And aren’t we also being influenced by a lot of voices? How do we know which are mere flattering lips? Perhaps you consider yourself a religious skeptic, but are you skeptical enough? Have you ever gone so far as to not only doubt the claims of Christianity, but to doubt your doubts? Have you considered that they too were influenced by the voices of others, and have you ever subjected those voices to the same kind of scrutiny to which you’ve subjected God’s voice in the Bible? Do you really have a more certain standard from which to critique the Bible?
David doesn’t have some firmer foundation by which to measure the purity of God’s words. He receives God’s words as pure, it would seem, simply because they are His, and David knows this God to be trustworthy. God has no ulterior motives; He cannot lie. It’s this same line of reasoning that gives us the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. The doctrine of biblical inerrancy teaches that because the words of Scripture are God’s Words and God both knows all things and never lies, the words of Scripture do not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. Or to use the language of this Psalm, since God’s words are pure words and the words of the Bible are God’s words, the words of the Bible are pure. It doesn’t mean our interpretations are pure, but the words are. It also doesn’t mean the Bible speaks to every issue; there are plenty of things the Bible does not address. But what it does address, it addresses without error, whatever the current consensus of scientists, historians, philosophers, celebrities, or that person who posted a video on Instagram. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that those other voices are more certain than God’s, and that God’s words, while perhaps true and helpful to a point, contain some mixture of error. But God’s words are absolutely pure, with no mixture of error.
And so, knowing this, David responds in verse 7: You, O LORD, will keep them, likely referring to the poor. You will guard us from this generation forever. You will not let the deception win. You will save us from this generation. And to the point of the purity of God’s Word, David says this while still in his generation, while, as he says in verse 8, on every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the children of man. Even though everything his eyes see suggests that vileness and deceit is winning, David trusts that God will save us from this generation, because God has promised to do so, and His words are pure. And indeed, we can say now with David not only that God will save us from this generation; we can say that He has. God has answered David’s prayer: “Save, O LORD.”
In Galatians 1:4, Jesus Christ is described as the one “who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age.” We can know the words of the LORD are pure words because His Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and He promised that whoever is truly His disciple will abide in His Word, know the truth, and the truth would set them free. He is the way, the truth, and the life, and He gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age. Notice, then, that it’s not just the present age that’s evil, as though we aren’t part of it. He gave himself for our sins. When Psalm 12 says “everyone” utters lies to his neighbors, that means everyone. It means you and me. Who of us has not tried to gain ourselves some social standing and advantage by flattering the people we wanted to like us, or whose displeasure we wanted to avoid?
And furthermore, why are we so easily manipulated by those who flatter us? Isn’t it because we so crave affirmation from people that we’ll give ourselves to whoever supplies it best? So how does God save us from that? He gives us a better word. The blood of Jesus speaks a better word than flattery. The blood of Jesus doesn’t flatter us. If there’s one thing the Bible has never been accused of, it’s flattery. It will say “everyone utters lies to his neighbor” and “There is none who is righteous; no not one.” It will tell you in no uncertain terms that you are a sinner. But you kind of already know that, don’t you? You don’t even live up to your own moral standards, let alone the purity of God’s words. So the Bible doesn’t flatter us, but it also doesn’t condemn us outright. The blood of Jesus speaks a better word than flattery because it doesn’t affirm what we know is wrong with us like flattery does, nor does it simply reject and exclude us the way others do. It charges us with sin, but then it offers the payment for our sin. That’s what Jesus did when He died on the cross and rose from the grave: He gave Himself for our sins, suffering the judgment they deserved and satisfying it in full, so that the blood of Jesus speaks a word of forgiveness. It justifies, and that is so much better than flattery. It speaks the truth! It deals with us as truly are, flaws and all, but then it brings us in to acceptance with the God of the Universe and reveals Him to us as a loving Father.
If you get to know God like that, flattery will lose all its power over you. Your craving for affirmation from people will just die, and so their power over you will die with it. And you will see that His words are pure words. Remember earlier I said that it’s hard to prove motive, but you know what’s pretty good evidence? When someone is willing to tell you things you don’t want to hear, and when someone doesn’t just say nice things about you, but does costly things for you, when you see them giving up their power and privilege to serve you. You know that’s what God did when He gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age? Believe in Him; He is the truth, and He won’t flatter you, but He will save you.
So if you want to be free of the skepticism and manipulation of words that characterizes our age, you need to listen to His words. You need to live in the Bible. Listen to it read aloud in church, listen to preaching on it in church, read it at home, study it, memorize it. And when you listen to preaching on it, open your Bible, keep it open during the sermon, and look for the preacher to help you understand the pure words of God. Make sure he’s not just flattering you. Do you find you have more time to listen to your favorite news outlet, TV show host, or podcast than you do to listen to God’s words? Go ahead and check those things, but live in the Bible. Its words are pure words, and it will give you the spectacles you need, over time, to start to sift through the fog of lies that characterize our generation.
And most importantly, it will give you Jesus, the Truth, who promises by His Spirit of Truth to guide us into the truth, even while the wicked still prowl on every side, and vileness is exalted among the children of man. Cry out to God. Ask Him to save. Ask Him to sanctify you in the truth, to renew your mind, to remake you in knowledge after His image. He will keep us until the end, when He will place us in the safety for which we long, and all flattering lips will be cut off. With that in mind, let me close by reading to you these words about that end from Revelation 21:5-8:
“And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”